So off we travelled “downtown” via the American system of transport equivalent to our very own London Tube System. However this system seemed to suffer from fits shaking every passenger from side to side trying its very best to ensure that all passengers suffered at least one type of bruising on their body [Masud: yeah it was like Bucking Bronco, real American Rodeo, oh yeah Aftab kept singing “Downtown” by Petula Clark, everyone has heard this song from the sixties].
So arriving “downtown” the first thing we did was to set about hunting down the most prominent Chicago Pizza restaurant. Chicago Pizzas are quite renowned as some of the finest pizzas outside Italy. Their history is quite interesting in that the Chicago-style deep-dish pizza (a pizza with a flaky crust that rises an inch or more above the plate and surrounds a deep pile of toppings) was created by Ike Sewell at his bar and grill. As with everything in America, on ordering our pizza, we realised that the size was something twice as large as the largest pizza that can be found in the UK. We soon set about trying to polish off our pizza, and slowly but surely we got to the stage where three quarters of the way through we were entirely stuffed. Aftab and I decided to be adventurous and have a root beer (which contains no alcohol and is also the favourite drink of the great boxer Muhammed Ali) whilst Masud geared up his techno machinery in preparation to take a million pictures (similar to a Japanese tourist) [Masud: in the end I didn’t take as many pictures as I would have liked].
So to facilitate our digestion we decided to take a trip up the famous Seers Tower which is the tallest building in Chicago. On arriving to the top through the thankful delights of modern machinery (i.e an elevator) we were able to view the northern side of Chicago as well as reading up on some of the historical facts of Chicago to the present day. The contribution to modern liberal arts, sport, music, politics was quite phenomenal in such a short time. After staying at the top of the tower for over 45 mins we decided to trek our way back down and to our amazement we noticed the contribution of a Muslim architect (Masud: There is a prominent plaque on the way out in honour of Fazul Rahman Khan who was a structural engineer on the Sears tower.
We also bumped into some dear friends Eissa Bougary, Kaswarah al-Khatib and Ahmed Shaghiry from the show Yallah Shabab, they were filming the second Ramadan Special a thirty part Ramadhan series on Muslims in America with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, and our dearest of friends Moez Masoud was also part of the group we bumped into. After meeting them we decided to go onto the hotel that they were all staying at to meet at least one fine ?British” accent that we would be familiar with. So off we went down to the waterfront of Lake Michigan, where to our delight we bumped into the fourth missing musketeer, Haider Ali, who has been working alongside the production crew for the Yallah Shabab: Rihla with Shaykh Hamza programme. To our shock we discovered that our dear Haider had picked up an American twang as well as some American Adab in conversing with any tom, dick or harry who crossed his path. The thought that maybe we needed to go on a chilla in America for forty days too had crossed my mind.
One of the interesting issues that we came across in our first day of walking around Chicago was this concept of meat being Halaal however not Zabihah. On querying a Muslim couple we were shocked to discover that in America they deemed meat prepared and cut by the Ahle-Kitab as halaal. The three of us looked at each other quite bemused and we were thankful Alhamdulillah that in the UK we do not have such issues. Basically in the US you need to be looking for food that is cut in the Zabihah manner, and investigate the bright neon lights that so ambigously state “Halaal food”. Once again I must re-emphasise that I thank Allah subhanna wa ta’ala that we do not have such major issues in the UK.
After a quick respite for my poor blistered feet (obviously I did not realise we were due to walk so far on that day, I decided to wear what the English would call flip flops) we met up with Shaykh Hamza and a few other brothers such as Hassan from Guidance Media, to go for an evening meal at one of the popular Persian restaurants in downtown Chicago called Reza’s. Apart from the company of brothers from Zaytuna, the production team filming A Rihlah with Shaykh Hamza, Moez Masoud and Hassan we were soon joined and entertained by the upcoming comedian Azhar Usman who delighted us with his regular intervals of jokes, stories and general chit chat.
Also at the meal was an inspiration to many of us in the UK, our elder Sidi Nazim Baksh-al Toronto (Mr CBC). As always it was difficult to figure out when talking to Nazim whether he was interviewing me or just having regular conversations. On this occasion as always he was winding me up, and I didn’t even realize it. Now Nazim Baksh can be defined as the stalwart and initiator of this modern day phenomena of Deen Intensives, that have become ever popular and acted as a catalyst for many young Muslims including myself to gain huge benefits. However my greater surprise was seeing and being in shock that Nazim (who genuinely does look like he is in his early thirties) had 3 grown up sons all in their mid-late teens.
After a long day and a fantastic meal we finally called it a day with all three of us falling asleep in the taxi back to our hotel. Obviously our body clocks had not adjusted, and we were in dire need of getting some rest for what realistically was the “main day” at ISNA. Hence we desperately needed our rest for our main priority of the tour which was to actually learn some type of knowledge.